How we engaged a nation in 5 easy steps
I’m Heikki Mägi, the co-founder and CEO of Fitlap. Fitlap has engaged more than 20% of the Estonian population - over 230,000 users. I know what you’re thinking. With a population of 1.3 million, it is small but mighty, with many start-up success stories including Transferwise, Skype and Bolt. It is a country that places third in Europe regarding the number of startups per capita.
Everything that has worked for us in Estonia can be scaled and adapted to work elsewhere, too.
I’ll share a whistle-stop tour of exactly how we did it. These universal ideas can be tweaked to suit most sectors. If, by chance, you struggle to see how to apply these tips and tools to your context they will serve as good inspiration, at least.
Let me briefly explain what we, Fitlap, do before I continue. We created a nutrition app to make healthy eating practical. Many people are passionate about their food and diet but there’s a growing need for a diet that slips seamlessly into our lifestyles, making our lives easier. Faddy diets come and go but in order to sustain a healthy diet, it must be quick, easy and affordable. The average healthy eating app pushes rare and expensive ingredients and complex recipes that create barriers to healthy eating instead of taking them away. Fitlap doesn’t operate that way. We make healthy eating easy and accessible in every situation.
As a nation, we’re spending less time in the kitchen. The average adult spends 61 minutes cooking each day - almost half the time our parents spent in the kitchen at the same age. The biggest barrier to healthy eating and cooking fresh food at home in the UK is a lack of time. 31% of adults don’t have the time to prepare fresh food at home and 15% of us finish work too late to then go home and prepare a freshly cooked meal for ourselves.
Typically, nutrition or diet plans focus on an individual, whilst Fitlap focuses on a family unit. The support of our loved ones is crucial for long-term change so we must engage the family whole instead of the individual. And the benefits are endless. Eating healthy meals together as a family improves physical and mental health and strengthens the family unit.
We operate predominantly on a subscription-based B2C model but use B2B partnerships to support us to engage and attract new customers.
5 “out of the box ideas” on how to engage a huge audience
So here we go… these were the unusual things we did that helped us to gain market domination in Estonia.
1. Partner with food manufacturers
We were already helping people to plan their meals but we wanted to do more. We wanted to partner with major food manufacturers to make healthy eating as accessible as possible for the masses - not the minority. What does it mean to ‘partner with food manufacturers’? We endorse their products which are sold in major supermarkets and meet our nutritional requirements. Every product we endorse bears a ‘Fitlap approved’ sign on the packaging.
The initial objective for these partnerships was to increase brand visibility in and across supermarkets. It was a ‘free deal’ at first, meaning that we received no commission for the increase in sales of Fitlap approved products.
How did we land our first partnership? It wasn’t until we hit around 15,000 users that food manufacturers became really interested. We sealed the first partnership with Co-op, the supermarket chain. The first deal is always the hardest to land and we worked hard for it. But the good news is that once you land the first deal, more will follow. And they did.
As our reputation and success grew, so did our ability to negotiate. We had become a trusted brand and food manufacturers wanted to be associated with us. These partnerships have evolved into profitable business strategies for both parties and we now receive a commission for every product sold. The Estonian public trust us to look after their health and will buy food products we endorse in their local supermarket with confidence. Product sales of Fitlap approved products have increased by as much as 30%.*
To this day we endorse more than 50 products across 16 food manufacturers in major Estonian supermarkets, petrol stations, and restaurants - from sausages to ice cream, freshly prepared meals, cheese and cereals.
We approach food manufacturers with partnership proposals early. Public health is such a concern that most companies are just waiting for an opportunity to address it and we give them that.
2. Encourage every user to become a blogger, vlogger, etc
When a new user signs up, we encourage them to write a blog. It doesn’t have to be Fitlap related but most are.
We reward every user that submits a blog more than 2000 words long with a gift of some kind. It’s usually a free day membership of Fitlap but it can vary. It motivates our users to engage and share their journey with others, which in turn, builds an engaged and supportive community.
There have been over 15,000 blog entries on our site since 2017 when Fitlap began and the exposure that these blogs provide on Google is priceless.
What if somebody says something bad about you? Less than 1% of those 15,000 blogs say something negative. It’s normal and it’s real, so don’t worry. You can't win them all. Besides, that 1% creates the authenticity that you want so don’t worry about it.
3. Approach large companies with B2B opportunities
Large companies rarely turn down free offers or products for their employees. We approached the biggest companies in Estonia and invited them to provide Fitlap to their employees for 2 weeks for free as part of their benefits package. When a service or product is endorsed by your employer it builds trust instantly. Employees began to use Fitlap and we were able to grow our user base substantially.
A large user base within a large company becomes a community in itself and can evolve into a lucrative opportunity.
Let me tell you why...
These employees work with one another day-after-day. They share their Fitlap experience and knowledge with one another. It builds up a small, but supportive network, word of mouth advertising happens organically and increases the likelihood of user retention.
4. Create an active Facebook Support group
This might sound like a no-brainer but whilst it’s easy to just create a page on Facebook, it is very difficult to build a group where users regularly engage with the content.
We invested a lot of time and kindness into creating a friendly environment and a buzz in our Facebook support group. We answered every question in record time - night or day - and did everything we could to make sure that our users got the support they needed when they needed it. It took us more than a year to get our support group into a place where our users began to drive its growth themselves.
But it was all so worth it. Today, it’s one of the most active Facebook groups in Estonia. We get around 2000 - 3000 responses to user research surveys in hours when we post it in our support group which is incredible. Companies usually pay thousands for that sort of user research but we have created a platform to get it in record time, and with zero costs.
We’re now in a place where our users will answer each other’s questions and we’re more than okay with that because sometimes they pull a tip, hack or recommendation out of the air that even we hadn’t thought of, and that’s what makes the group so unique.
And it works as a perfect marketing channel.
My recommendation is to take the time to invest in those customer relationships, especially early on in the process. It doesn’t happen overnight but stick with it and things will start to take shape.
5. Be kind
For a B2C product, it’s important to us that people stay engaged and active in the long-term. As I said before, the support of our loved ones is crucial for long-term change so we must engage the family whole, not just the individual. Family is key. When users get their whole family on-board, the chances for long-term success increase significantly.
So we decided to allow our users to add family members to their account at no extra cost. One account for one family. Other nutrition or diet apps are reluctant to offer this because they would lose out on users and money but we focused on the greater good. And in doing that we were able to increase retention, grow our user base with the hope to encourage word of mouth advertising in the process.
To accelerate growth we:
- made every user a blogger
- partnered with food manufacturers
- invited large companies to add us to their employee benefits package
- created an active Facebook support group
- showed kindness in allowing our users to add family members to their account for free
How can we work together?
There are 2 options:
- We are currently raising our seed round for faster growth in the UK market. Join us as an investor.
- Co-operation with Fitlap. As I mentioned before, we are up for a good partnership. And yes, we would be happy to join forces with you.
Feel free to contact me directly.
CEO of Fitlap
What’s been your most successful growth hack? Leave a comment below.
*The increase in sales depends on a co-operation.